Elections are not just about choosing public officials. They’re about the legitimacy of government.
In the words of the Declaration of Independence, governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Without that consent, governments are tyrannies, unjustly handing out penalties — or sweetheart deals — with the stolen power they have seized by force or manipulation. And that brings us to California.
A new report from the nonprofit Election Integrity Project California documents alarming problems that plagued the state’s 2018 midterm elections. “Eligible voters were harmed by significant system failings,” the researchers concluded, “and this casts doubt on the integrity of California’s elections.”
The state has already acknowledged the disturbing failures in the automatic voter registration system at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Over 100,000 errors were made in voter registrations after an ill-considered decision to launch the inadequately tested system before the June 2018 primary. Among other problems, the DMV failed to forward hundreds of timely registrations to the Secretary of State’s office in time for the November election.
The report from the Election Integrity Project California documents problems at a relatively small sample of polling places around the state. EIPCa had 194 trained volunteers observing the November 2018 elections. The report is based on findings in eight counties with the most documented observations: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Monterey and Calaveras.
Election observers documented 1,304 vote-by-mail voters in 165 precincts in the eight counties who did not receive ballots in the mail. When these voters went to the polls, they had no VBM ballot to surrender before voting, so they were told they had to vote provisionally. In some places, that meant waiting in long lines to cast provisional ballots, where “some even left the lines in disgust and did not vote.”
EIPCa documented that the San Bernardino County Registrar’s office admitted that a vendor failed to mail ballots to 1,129 voters who requested VBM ballots Oct. 30. Of those voters, 482 went to the polls, one voter was unaccounted for and 646 did not vote in the election.
Observers documented 496 voters in 112 precincts around the state who went to their polling places and discovered that they had been changed to “vote-by-mail” status without their knowledge or consent. Most did not receive VBM ballots in the mail.
Thirty-five observed precincts ran out of provisional ballots, envelopes or related materials. One observer in Ventura County saw 16 voters turned away due to lack of provisional supplies.
Los Angeles County voters cast an astounding 389,229 provisional ballots, compared to 120,928 provisional ballots cast in the 2014 midterm election. This isn’t due only to higher turnout. The number of total ballots cast was up 99 percent from 2014 to 2018, but the number of provisional ballots cast increased by 222 percent.
That was the pattern across the state. In Orange County, total ballots were up 72 percent, but provisionals were up 193 percent. In Riverside, it was 72 percent and 183 percent. In San Bernardino, 84 percent and 264 percent. Provisional ballots are verified and counted after absentee ballots, when the counties are facing a hard deadline to report their results. Does the high volume of provisional ballots increase the likelihood of ballots being improperly counted or rejected?
Other problems are documented, including unlawful “conditional” voting at locations where same-day registration was not authorized. At Pomona College, one precinct had 164 registered voters but 639 ballots cast.
Recent changes to state law have sought to make voting more accessible, but these changes may have come at the expense of election integrity. The 2020 elections will bring more radical changes as local polling places are replaced by vote centers, ink-a-dot voting equipment is replaced by touchscreens, printed voter registers are replaced by electronics and Election Day itself is replaced by 11 days of voting.
With California’s 2020 primary less than a year away, every public official with responsibility for elections should be alarmed by the serious problems documented at the DMV and in the 2018 election.
If you find that they’re not, ask them why, or judge for yourself.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group.